Rocky Broad River in North Carolina | James Brandon

Ask James: Are Filters Necessary?

Hi James I have purchased a couple of your ebooks and found them to be very helpful. Love your work. My Question is about using filters with digital photography I understand there are some filter effects that can not be done in post, ( Polarizer, Neutral Density ), but in an age of digital blending do we really need filters such as graduated ND, warming, cooling ? It seems to be a large expense to purchase quality filters and I would like to know the benefits of using these filters and how they work with digital photography. For example, if I use a warming filter, does the camera try to correct the warming effect with the white balance ? I currently do a lot of blending and do find it can be tedious work but I am open to trying different techniques and developing an understanding of how to use these techniques. CheersJustin R.

Great question Justin, and happy to answer it from my perspective! I think you’re right in the sense that there are some filters that are absolutely necessary and cannot be replicated in post processing, while others can be replicated so it may not be worth spending the money on them. However, there is still something to be said about getting as much right in-camera as possible so we don’t have to rely so much on post processing. With that, it really just depends on your preference. Here are the filters I currently own, ranked by how much I use each one (all these can be found at Amazon most of the time)…

  1. Formatt-Hitech 105mm Circular Polarizer
  2. LEE Big Stopper 10 Stop Neutral Density Filter
  3. Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 4 Stop Neutral Density Filter
  4. Formatt-Hitech 2 Stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density Filters
  5. Formatt-Hitech 2 Stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density Filters

So just like you were saying, I don’t see much need for warming or cooling filters either. There hasn’t ever been a time where I thought to myself, “If only I had a warming filter with me right now.” I’m sure there are people who use them with plenty of success, but I’m a minimalist with gear and if it’s not something I’m going to use often, it doesn’t make it into my backpack. Grad ND filters are nice to have around just in case, but I rarely use them because just like you, I prefer blending exposures in Photoshop most of the time.

For the filters at the top of the list, I typically use these every day I’m out shooting. The circular polarizer is fantastic for cutting through glare whether it’s on rocks or water or any reflective surface. The ND filters are perfect when I need to push the shutter speed down to create movement in a scene. So for those, I highly recommend the investment because it opens up a whole new world of shots that just aren’t possible otherwise and cannot be replicated in post without an insane amount of time and effort.

Hope that helps, cheers!


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